The new birth is absolutely critical. That was Jesus’ teaching in John 3 – “Ye must be born again!”
But often, when we think of the new birth, we imagine that it is only individuals who need regeneration. But in Matthew 19, Jesus had something much bigger in mind:
“Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” (Matthew 19:27-30)
“Regeneration” translates a Greek word that might be more literally rendered “birth-again”. There is a new birth that is not simply for people – it is for creation itself. Not an endless cycle of death and rebirth. A single and definitive rebirth – the regeneration.
Just as Christ was crucified once and rose never to die again, so this world will pass through the judgement and out into a once-and-for-all regeneration. Heaven and earth will be reborn when “the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory.”
Jesus will stand again on the earth, the Last Adam and true Ruler of the Cosmos. On that day the world will be set to rights. Through the disobedience of “Man” creation fell. Through the obedient Man reigning on the “throne of His glory”, creation will be reborn.
And it’s the kind of rebirth that will turn the world right-side up. Scores will be settled. The proud will be cast down and the humble exalted. All who have “forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands” for Christ’s sake will receive back a hundredfold. A 10,000% return on investment!
Christ’s teaching here answers the short-term folly of the rich young ruler. Perhaps we can imagine him still within earshot as Jesus says these words. Christ’s teaching on “the regeneration” shows the rich young ruler’s decision to be complete madness.
Because, in a significant sense, the problem with the rich man was that he wasn’t interested in riches enough. He could have had a hundredfold back with Jesus! He wasn’t interested in ruling enough - he could have sat on thrones with Christ! And he wasn’t “young” enough – he could have found eternal youth in Christ’s cosmic regeneration!
Whatever self-denial Jesus called the man too, it was only temporary. Jesus was offering him a fullness beyond his wildest dreams.
That’s so important to understand. Jesus does not get us to trade “worldly pleasures” for private, spiritual experiences. We might get that impression if we only understood “regeneration” individually. But no, Jesus does not simply offer a private new-birth – a little, localised fresh start. Only the very pious can trade this world for a personal religious experience!
No, no. Jesus is unashamedly offering us the world. And not just this world – this world, reborn. It’s in the context of this cosmic regeneration that following Jesus makes sense. If this world will be reborn with Christ at the centre, then, ultimately, there’s no such thing as sacrifice for Jesus. Only investment!